Grand Canyon Rim-Rim-Rim-Again
24 April 2004 Bob Dawson w/ Keith Bershader, Laurie Pearce and Danielle Jacobs
Given the immense success and fun had on last year’s “walk in the park”, we decided to do this thing again. We’re talking about a continuous hike from the Grand Canyon's South Rim (elevation=6860') via the Bright Angel trail to the CO river (elevation 2400'), up the North Kaibab trail to the North Rim (elevation 8250') and back. Total distance around 47 miles and 11,000' of vertical gain (when the extra 600’ or so of localized ups-and-downs are included)
We completed this out-and-back hike in just over 20 hours, shaving 2.5 hours off of last year’s time, without any significant extra physical effort. We simply budgeted our rest stops better this time, though we did still take a luxurious 50-minute break at Phantom Ranch (near the river) before the final climb back up the South Rim. We were as time-efficient as possible, but didn’t run a step.
We had a total blast, of course, and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of a fantastic group of strong folks. For anyone thinking about doing an adventure like this, this one is so very much worth the effort. We decided unanimously that this tour-de-canyon is probably the best way to immerse one’s self in the varieties of fantastic beauty and aura of this remarkable place. My feet are still sore, two days later, but I find myself ALREADY planning the next rim-rim-rim (more on that below).
Travel to the Canyon:
It was touch-and-go with the Colorado weather last Thursday afternoon, and our worst fear would have been if I70 from Denver to Grand Junction had been impassible, but we got out of Dodge just in time, and once through the Eisenhower tunnel, the roads were dry. We traveled from Denver the 680 miles to the GC via I70 to Utah, through Moab on US191, through Kayenta in Northern AZ and to the Grand Canyon Village in just about 12 hours total of driving time, at a relaxed pace.
For Accommodations on the South Rim, there are numerous places are available, but were all booked solid except the Yavapai Lodge, where we stayed last year, a very short drive from the Bright Angel trailhead. NEXT time we do this, I will attempt to book far enough ahead to snag a room in the Bright Angel lodge, which is right at the trailhead.
Time of Year:
If one listens to the “classic advice” about doing this rim-rim-rim thing, we were a bit early again this year, but there was ZERO snow on the North Rim, so this worked perfectly. (Last year there was ankle-deep snow right near the North rim, but still no hindrance at all). I would highly recommend late April for this, unless the year is a heavy snow year. One can check the North Rim conditions with the Park service, just don’t tell them you’re planning a rim-rim-rim, unless you want to hear them hassle you.
Timetable: (times are in MST, as Arizona does not use daylight savings time)
Again identically with last year, we chose a 3am start time. This means walking down the Bright Angel trail to the river entirely in the dark as well as back the next evening in the dark. This works very well in avoiding being in the lower Canyon during the hot part of the day, as we top-out on the cool North Rim at mid-day. The complete timetable was as follows (approximate, within about 15 minutes or so):
Time & Distance Table (all +/- 10 minutes or so):
Leave S. Rim 3:00 am
8 mile hike down, Arrive CO river 5:45 am
1.5 miles, Arrive Phantom Ranch 6:10 am
Leave Phantom Ranch 6:30 am
7 mile hike, Arrive Cottonwood camp 8:45 am
Leave Cottonwood Camp 9:15 am
7 mile hike, Arrive North Rim 12:20 pm
Leave North Rim 12:40 pm
7 mile hike, arrive Cottonwood camp 3:20 pm
7 mile hike, arrive Phantom Ranch 6:00 pm
Leave Phantom Ranch, start up South Rim 7:00 pm
4.5 miles, Arrive Indian Gardens 8:50 pm
Arrive S. Rim 11:15 pm FINISHED!
Last year, with the exception of in the Phantom Ranch area, we saw exactly one person the entire 47 mile hike, another rim-rim-rim’er. This year, we saw a few more folks, including two other small (3 and 5 person) rim-rim-rim groups, a couple running the North Rim trail from Phantom Ranch, and a work crew on the North rim trail. Not to be anti-social, but our timetable completely avoids the crowds of folks and mules on the South rim trail, and this time of year the North Rim is still closed so it’s trail is virtually empty.
Nonetheless, we have tentatively decided to try something a bit different next time, basically shifting our timetable by 12 hours, leaving the South Rim at 3 PM, and finishing up at about 10 or 11am the next day. This would still avoid the deep canyon during the hot hours of the day. We would top-out on the North Rim at about midnight, so we would pick a weekend with a full moon. This would allow the hiking and enjoying of the South rim trail in the daylight, and because the shuttles would be running, we could go down and come back up the less-crowded, shorter and mule-free South Kaibab trail. We would also have a place open to EAT when we finished, a major plus. We were thinking perhaps later in the season, mid-to-late May or early June would work, balancing daylight length and heat. I think it would be a kick to hike most of the North Rim trail in the dusk and dark hours under a full moon. The only down-side I can think of would be hiking completely through the night, missing an entire night’s sleep.
SO, If you are reasonably fit, and enjoy challenges, consider this beautiful adventure! Grand Canyon National Park is extremely popular for a reason. Hiking across the Canyon and back in this manner allows one to thoroughly experience this fantastic place.